30 Years!

In somewhat unrelated expat news, Happy 30th Anniversary to my wonderful parents!

Really though, it's not completely unrelated.
A) Without my parents, I wouldn't be here (read: alive) and neither would Lady in Lima &
B) Without my parents I wouldn't be in Lima.

I feel beyond fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. They have always encouraged me to be whatever I want to be, no questions asked. I credit them with developing my strong sense of self and independence.

When I wanted to study abroad they never faltered in their support and were happy for me even though it took me away from them. After my college graduation when I told my dad that I wanted to move to Peru he asked, "Were you expecting me to be surprised?"

They have supported me emotionally and financially (even though this independent girl wanted to do it alone) and I am forever grateful. I couldn't ask for a better support system than my two dear parents.


Also today a big Happy Birthday to my maternal Grandma, even though she won't read this because she doesn't use the internet. :)

Culture Confusion: Seatbelts

Several months ago, I found myself running errands with Alvaro´s mom and his three aunts. Four Peruvian sisters & me. Talk about being outnumbered. I crawled into the back seat of the SUV and instinctively put on my seatbelt. Within seconds of hearing "click!" one of his aunts said, "Oh, how cute! Meghancita is wearing her seatbelt in the backseat!" To which I thought, "Well, why wouldn´t I? Have you seen the drivers here?"

In Peru, the law states that anyone in the front seat, drivers and passengers, must be wearing seatbelts. For the back seat, however, there is no such law. Like most Americans, wearing a seatbelt is second nature to me. I get into the car, close the door and latch my seatbelt, without even thinking about it. Even in Peru, where I know it´s not the law, I wear my seatbelt.

Taxi and bus drivers try to evade this law by wearing tshirts with a "seatbelt" painted across the front. To the passing eye, this painted "seatbelt" passes the test for a real one. Since most buses in Lima are converted fifteen passenger vans or small company buses, there is usually a front passenger seat. The commuter sitting in that seat is obligated, by law, to wear a seatbelt. Yesterday, I sat behind the driver and had a clear view of the front  passenger seat. A young girl about my age climbed into the front seat and pulled the seatbelt aross her chest. That´s where she left it. Hanging by her left hip. Without latching it in the fastner.

This puzzled me. I realized that this girl wasn´t "wearing" the seatbelt because she thought it was safe, she was "wearing" the seatbelt because she wanted to avoid a fine. I wondered, "If you are going to pull the belt across your body, why not go the extra 1.5 inches and actually fasten it? How much extra effort does that take?"

It´s baffling. I mentioned this story to Alvaro, when I said, "I always wear my seatbelt, even in the back!" he chuckled and said, "Yes, I have noticed."

Now in addition to my English speaking accent, blue eyes and short bob haircut, wearing my seatbelt screams: "Look at this gringa!!"


I can now add something to my list of Lima firsts. Right after taking a Lima bus, eating cow hearts, arguing with taxi drivers and teaching children, I have looked for an apartment. Growing up, I lived at home and then in dorms, when I moved off campus, my mom found the apartment for me because I was studying abroad that semester. For my first apartment in Lima, Alvaro and his mom found it before my arrival. This was my first real estate endeavor. Needless to say, it was a lot harder than I expected.

I spent the majority of last week trying to find a balance between price, interior and location. Ideally, I want completely redone bathrooms, new kitchen,  modern interior,  beautiful building and the picture perfect location. Around Wednesday I had a reality check: My teacher budget won´t pay for all of those things. Then I began to make compromises and in this process discovered the one thing I was unwililng to compromise on: location.

I had singled out an apartment and it was the main contender. The location couldn´t be better, the price is right, the decorations are pretty good but the kitchen and bathroom are older. Here was my compromise. I am able to admit that I am horrificly indecisive (somewhere in Nashville my mom is reading this and smiling) and it took the hard truth to accept that this was the apartment, old kitchen included.

But I did it! I signed a preliminary document last week and will get to see the apartment fully ready to go this weekend. Then begins the process of thoroughly removing every shedded Emmaline hair from my current apartment so the owner doesn´t realize there was an expat cat living there for a year. I think she´s worth all the cleaning trouble, but I am afraid my landlady won´t agree.

And that´s that. As I am approaching the one year anniversary of my big leap to Peru, I can add finding an apartment in Spanish to my list of accomplishments.

Zombie, zombie

Last week I was riding in a taxi when I heard the driver say, "Zoommbie, zoommbie."

Confused, I began thinking about possible context. Is he starting a conversation with me about zombies? Is a street vendor selling zombie paraphernalia? Is there a hoard of zombies heading this way?

All of the possible contexts were improbable, so I ignored the moment until he turned up the volume on the radio. Then I heard the Cranberries singing:

But you see, it's not me, it's not my family. 
In your head, in your head they are fighting, 
With their tanks and their bombs, 
And their bombs and their guns. 
In your head, in your head, they are crying... 

In your head, in your head, 
Zombie, zombie, zombie, 
Hey, hey, hey. What's in your head, 
In your head, 
Zombie, zombie, zombie? 
Hey, hey, hey, hey, oh, dou, dou, dou, dou, dou... 

Before this moment, I had never really listened to the lyrics of the song because quite frankly I find the "in your head, in your he-ehe-e-ad" part to be annoying. As I listened, I was surprised to find the lyrics of the song to be making references to war and its destruction. Then I thought, "What does this taxi driver think this song is about? A zombie attack? That couldn't be further from the truth."

It was a moment when I realized the importance of language in context. For this taxi driver, the only word he knew was "zombie" but that's barely the main importance of the song. I've had my fair share of language mishaps by understanding only a few words and not the context. Like when I heard Alvaro's family talking about church attendance in Spain and someone said, "yes, there are only four cats in there." Then I asked, "Four cats? Why are we talking about cats? I thought we were talking about people in church, right?"

Turns out "four cats" is a phrase for "not very many people". Oh yes, context is everything.

Vocabulary Pockets

Now that I have been living in Peru for almost one full year, I can say from personal experience that living somewhere is the best way to learn a language. It's not simply because you are surrounded by the sounds and forced to speak, but because you learn practical vocabulary you most likely wouldn't learn in a classroom.

Since I began teaching, I have learned an array of classroom vocabulary that I would never have learned if I wasn't surrounded by six year olds all day.

"Miss, can you sharpen my pencil?"
"Well, what happened is that he pushed me and threw a toy at me."
"Miss, my stomach hurts. My head hurts. My throat hurts. My leg is bleeding. My arm itches."

I have been going to yoga classes for several months and finally feel like I have mastered all of the vocabulary. Now I can be in class and focus on yoga without focusing so much on understanding the teacher. Through yoga I learned less obvious body parts: hips, jaw, shoulders, elbow, wrists. Things I learned years ago in school but had no practical use for, so I forgot them. I have also learned movements such as: bend and flex.

The most recent vocabulary circle I am exploring is anything related to renting an apartment. As I begin to search for a new place I am learning the following words: hardwood floors, carpeted floors, remodeled, balcony, guarantees and location.

Apartment hunting is hard enough, now I am apartment hunting in my second language. Alvaro's sweet mom has taken on the role of helping me and she makes decisions in a flash. She knows whether or not she likes the apartment before we walk into the building. When we leave an apartment, she asks my opinion with a strong sense of urgency. Take my improving-but-not-quite-yet-fluent Spanish skills, mix them with my extreme indecisiveness and you have a very panicked Meghan. This panic helps though, when I'm panicked my Spanish flows from some subconscious part of me and as the words tumble from my lips I realize, "Oh, hey, I'm actually learning."

Conquering one vocabulary pocket at a time.

Point for Peru: Location, Location

I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. For most of my childhood, the ocean was no more then ten minutes away from my house. It became a constant fixture in my life and simply blended in with everything around me. That is, of course, until my family moved to landlocked Tennessee and everyone I knew spent their summers "at the lake". Maybe it's not so bad if you grow up with it, but I think lake water is disgusting. It's murky, dingy and there are mysterious slimy things lurking at the bottom. After my first lake experience I realized the true glories of the South Floridian waters.

It's a treat to be once again living along the coast, albeit a completely different one. Unfortunately, this coast doesn't boast golden beaches or warm waters. The sand is grey and the waters are cold, but I don't need the perfect beach day to enjoy coastal living. All I need is to look out my window and see the ocean off in the distance. To spend lazy Sundays walking along the coastal parks. I like looking out and thinking about the thousands of miles of ocean that separate me from land.

But Peru´s great location isn´t limited to its coastline. Within this one country, you can enjoy beaches, mountains, deserts and the jungle. The Andes Mountains divide Peru into three distinct regions: the coast, the mountains and the jungle. Nearly 60% of the country lies within the Amazon basin. This geographical diversity is a source of great pride for Peruvians. The idea of "the coast, mountains and jungle" resonnates in almost everything: talks of food, regional cultures, national poems and great landscapes. All with good reason, it´s a rare thing that you can experience such great diversity all within the same country.

Bringing your pet to Peru

After I decided to bring Emmaline with me to Peru, I began the tedious process of trying to figure out exactly how to bring her with me. I was coming from the United States and most likely the regulations vary a little by country, but I imagine that most of the rules are similar.

1. Check with your airline before purchasing a ticket. Some airlines do not travel with animals to South America, or they only do so certain times of the year. They are various rules related to animal type, whether they are traveling in cabin or in cargo, origin and destination and time of year. So check with the airline first.

2. Also, you need to make a reservation for all animals, especially in cabin travelers. Most airlines only allow up to five per flight.

3. Contact your vet and let them know you will be needing an International Health Certificate. For Emmaline, we updated all of her vaccines the week before we left. She was vaccinated for rabies and FVRCP. Peru requires a recent rabies vaccine, if I remember it correctly it was within ten days or your departure.

4. She was also given a microchip pet ID, we decided to go with Home Again.

5. At this vet visit, your vet will fill in the required information regarding vaccines, microchip and general health. Then you must take the completed IHC to the local USDA office where it is authorized by the State Veterinarian.

6. Once arriving in Lima, we had to stop by the SENASA (The Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture) office before going through Customs. Here I presented her IHC and paid a S./65 fee. After they looked her over, we were good to go!

It was a fairly straight forward process once I discovered all the regulations. The hardest part was finding reliable and recent information about bringing a pet into Peru. Once I was beyond that, it was very easy and I'm glad she's here with me.

This list is just a start, please check with your vet to see if any changes have been made. Peru is notorious for constantly changing rules.

What was your experience with taking a pet to another country?

Point for Peru: Empanadas

As if Peruvian food weren't already good enough. Then take said Peruvian food and wrap it in delicious dough. Add a side of lime for some zing and this girl is in culinary heaven. I'm noticing that more and more of my favorite things about Peru are related to food. No shame here, there's a reason why Lima has been named one of the Three Food Cities to Watch, everything is so so good.

We recently discovered an empanada restaurant that makes gourmet empanadas filled with typical Peruvian dishes. They feature my favorites, lomo saltado and ají de pollo, as well as empanadas filled with turkey, steak and even Chinese food.

Besides this recent find, one of my favorite bakeries sells their empanadas in regular size and mini, who doesn't love a mini empanada? It's the perfect quick bite, it's small, fantastic and travels well. Thank goodness spring is just around the corner, I have to walk off these empanada pounds.